The sensible majority is shrinking. According to an important new study by the Pew Research Center, a “growing minority” of partisan Americans doesn’t believe in compromise, and suspects the opposing party is a threat to the nation’s well-being.
The findings beg the chicken-or-the-egg question. Is an increasingly polarized electorate driving political leaders to the extremes? Or is poor leadership and hyperbolic rhetoric driving voters to ideological corners? The answer is most likely “both,” with a wide variety of complicating factors — specifically, the social anxiety that accompanies eras of economic and technological disruption. Key findings:
Hard-core partisans are on the rise. The percentage of Americans who express consistently conservative and consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades, from 10 percent to 21 percent. Almost four-in-10 politically engaged Democrats are consistent liberals, up from just 8 percent in 1994. A third of Republicans are consistently conservative, up from just 10 percent a decade ago.
They’re also pulling apart. Ideological overlap between the two parties has shrunk. Ninety-two percent of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94 percent of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican. Two decades ago, just 64 percent of Republicans were to the right of the median Democrat and only 70 percent of Democrats were to the left of the median Republican.
And they hate each other. The percentage of Republicans who hold a highly negative view of Democrats is 43 percent, up from 17 percent in 1994. Nearly four-in-10 Democrats loathe Republicans, up from 16 percent two decades ago.
Many consider the other side to be an existential threat. More than one-third of Republicans see the Democratic Party as a threat to the nation’s well-being, while 27 percent of Democrats think the same of the GOP.
They run in packs. People with hard-line ideological positions are more likely than others to say that most of their close friends share their view. Pew says partisans are essentially living in “ideological silos.”
And they don’t compromise. A majority of consistent conservatives (57 percent) say the ideal agreement between Obama and GOP lawmakers is one in which Republicans hold out for more of their goals. Consistent liberals are just as stubborn, if not more so: Their preferred terms (favored by 62 percent) end up closer to Obama’s position than the GOP. “At a time of increasing gridlock on Capitol Hill, many on both the left and the right think the outcome of political negotiations between (President) Obama and Republican leaders should be that their side gets more of what it wants,” reads the report.
They’re crowding out the rest of us. The hardened partisan views don’t reflect the majority of Americans, according to Pew.
These sentiments are not shared by all — or even most — Americans. The majority do not have uniformly conservative or liberal views. Most do not see either party as a threat to the nation. And more believe their representatives in government should meet halfway to resolve contentious disputes rather than hold out for more of what they want.
Yet many of those in the center remain on the edges of the political playing field, relatively distant and disengaged, while the most ideologically oriented and politically rancorous Americans make their voices heard through greater participation in every stage of the political process.
And the middle is shrinking. Rating political values on a scale of 1 to 10, Pew found that since 1994 the number of people in the center has shrunk from 49 percent of the public (in 1994 and 2004) to just 39 percent today. That number includes roughly equal numbers of liberal and conservative positions.
What We're Following See More »
Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."